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Trump’s VP rollout and convention planning complicated by Biden woes as former president looks to regain spotlight

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Trump’s VP rollout and convention planning complicated by Biden woes as former president looks to regain spotlight




CNN
 — 

Donald Trump is entering a critical stretch of his presidential campaign in an unfamiliar place: out of the spotlight.

Over the next 10 days, the former president will announce his running mate, hold a pair of campaign rallies and kick off a Republican convention in Milwaukee where he will officially become the party’s presidential nominee for the third time in eight years.

But the rollout of Trump’s summer plans have been overshadowed by the dramatic fallout over President Joe Biden’s lackluster debate performance and a Democratic Party in the throes of a crisis about its expected nominee. While the Trump campaign was happy to sit back and watch Biden and his allies spiral through the holiday weekend, the former president is quickly approaching a marquee period over which he planned to be the center of attention.

That is no longer the expectation, though, and his campaign is now trying to navigate how to maximize the rollout of his vice presidential pick under unprecedented circumstances while pulling off a convention that can successfully set up the new ticket for the final 3½ months of the race.

Uncertainty around Biden may have also injected new factors for Trump and his advisers to consider in a running mate.

Though Trump had previously indicated he had already made a selection “in my mind,” a Republican fundraiser close to the former president said the prospect of Biden ending his White House bid has likely altered Trump’s calculus.

Trump’s search for a running mate has focused on three names: North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance. Trump’s campaign had previously said that “the top criteria in selecting a vice president is a strong leader who will make a great president for eight years after his next four-year term concludes.” Such guidelines appeared to give an edge to Rubio, 53, and Vance, 39, over the 67-year-old Burgum.

As the youngest and closest to the far-right forces in the former president’s orbit, Vance appears best positioned to campaign as an heir to Trump’s MAGA movement, if that is the former president’s preference. Rubio’s proximity to donors and the governing class is viewed as stabilizing to Republicans in Washington, while Trump’s continued fixation on Burgum suggests he may be more interested in casting for the role of running mate than in picking a successor.

When to unveil that pick, though, has become a moving target, particularly given the overwhelming focus on Biden. Another wave of reaction from Democrats about their nominee’s fitness for the office is expected Monday when members of Congress return from recess. Biden, meanwhile, is participating in a NATO summit this week in Washington and is scheduled to hold a news conference Thursday where he is certain to face questions about his future.

Trump’s campaign views Monday, July 15 – the opening night of the Republican convention in Milwaukee – as the deadline to present his vice presidential choice. With party business planned for that morning, the announcement could come just before the official nomination.

Though Trump once measured his potential picks by how they might stack up against Vice President Kamala Harris in a one-on-one debate, those calculations would be tossed aside if she is elevated to the top of the Democratic ticket. Those around Trump increasingly view that as an outcome they may have to face.

Harris’ potential ascent amid Biden’s physical decline has crystalized the need for the 78-year-old Trump to pick someone voters believe can step into the job, the Republican fundraiser argued.

Still, few people have a clear insight into Trump’s preference at the moment. One person who has aided past vice presidential contenders and is advising another this time told CNN that of all the vetting processes he has observed from the inside, “This is the one with the littlest information possible” getting back to the prospective running mates from the campaign.

“It’s clear it’s going to be Trump’s decision and Trump’s decision alone,” the person said.

Sources close to some of the top contenders have also indicated they are in the dark – often reading tea leaves and media reports to gauge where the process stands.

Against that reality, the auditioning in the veepstakes continued through the weekend. In competing appearances on television Sunday, Vance and Rubio staked out somewhat opposing views on Trump’s vow of retribution illustrative of their competing pitches for the job.

Vance, who has the backing of several figures leading the calls for revenge on Trump’s political opponents – most notably the recently imprisoned former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, as well as Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr. – embraced the suggestion that former President Trump, if elected, could appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Biden.

“I would absolutely support investigating prior wrongdoing by our government, absolutely,” Vance told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Rubio, meanwhile, appeared more skeptical that Trump would choose such a path.

“He was president for four years. He didn’t go after Hillary Clinton. He didn’t go after Joe Biden. He didn’t go after Barack Obama,” Rubio told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”

Burgum did not appear on the Sunday political shows this weekend.

In a sign that even Trump’s closest allies do not believe his mind is made up, other names continue to get suggested. Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham pushed for his Palmetto State partner Sen. Tim Scott but also cautioned against overlooking Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

“If we win Virginia, we win,” Graham said. “It is over.”

The Republican convention itself remains a work in progress, and planning for Milwaukee is taking place under the assumption that nearly every aspect of the party’s quadrennial fete will be viewed through the prism of the tumult unfolding in the other camp.

The Republican Party has released few details about the convention, including the lineup of speakers or Trump’s plans around the four days of festivities.

The meeting of the party’s platform committee this week will offer an early window into how Trump intends to flex his dominance of the party at the convention. The committee’s work, an insider-driven process typically followed closely only by party die-hards, has drawn heightened scrutiny this year from some conservative groups shaken by the Trump campaign’s recent demands for the 2024 GOP platform.

In a memo last month, Trump co-campaign managers Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita outlined their expectations to dramatically scale back the platform from its sprawling and dense 66 pages to a document that is “clear, concise and easily digestible” for voters.

The Republican Party is also planning for the first time to keep the deliberations behind closed doors, a choice that earned a rebuke last week from Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who called the idea “un-American.”

The platform debate was already set to take place amid intensifying anxiety from conservative groups, especially as the party crafts its first official position on abortion since the fall of Roe v. Wade. Trump has backed off his past support for a national abortion ban, which the party has advocated in its platform for decades, and anti-abortion groups have warned against removing the language to match Trump’s latest stance on the issue.

Perkins wrote that limiting access to the platform committee “heightens speculation that the GOP platform will be watered down to a few pages of meaningless, poll-tested talking points.”

Rubio, a co-sponsor of a Senate bill to ban abortion nationwide at 20 weeks with some exceptions, said on Sunday that Trump’s position is “grounded in reality” and that the party should follow him.

“Our platform has to reflect our nominee,” Rubio said.

Trump will reemerge on the campaign trail this week, with rallies planned in South Florida on Tuesday and in Pennsylvania on Saturday – his first public events since the day after the debate.

The former president has spent much of the past week lying low at his Bedminster resort in New Jersey – golfing and giving his staff a break for the holiday weekend.

But Trump broke his silence on the Democratic hand-wringing with a weekend social media post mockingly urging his rival to remain in the race.

“Joe Biden should ignore his many critics and move forward, with alacrity and strength, with his powerful and far reaching campaign,” Trump wrote Saturday on Truth Social. “He should be sharp, precise, and energetic, just like he was in The Debate.”

While the post was clearly intended to stir the pot, it was also a sign of the growing restlessness from within Trump’s presidential campaign as his team waits for Democrats to settle on Biden or someone else.

After Biden’s televised interview with ABC aired Friday night, one senior Trump adviser acknowledged to CNN that the 22-minute back-and-forth with George Stephanopoulos had not offered much clarity.

Said the adviser: “I thought he lived to fight another day.”

CNN’s Kit Maher contributed to this report.



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